The Importance of Community for the Church

Why is community so important to the church? And why do we too often neglect it?

I was reminded earlier this week of one of my favorite parts of the Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road. It’s where the father is trying to impart some encouragement to his son, as they journey through the bleakness of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States,

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F: You have to carry the fire.
S: I don’t know how to.
F: Yes, you do.
S: Is the fire real? The fire?
F: Yes it is.
S: Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
F: Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Many have speculated about the significance of “the fire” to which McCarthy refers. Is it a reference to Prometheus’ gift of knowledge to humanity in Greek mythology? Or perhaps a reference to God Himself, and the importance of faith and religion in making us human in an inhuman world? Is it simply the life that is still existent in the love of the son and his father contrasted with the death and chaos around them? These would certainly fit the narrative of The Road.

But what I find interesting is that this particular exchange shows us how community – or, fellowship – functions.

There is a goal, or mission, and a very real struggle. What sustains us through the struggle is having someone be in it with us. What helps us when we cannot see something is to have someone else see for us. What keeps us from quitting or falling into despair is the presence and performance of another.

In other words, life is too hard to go it alone; we need others. We need others to not only accomplish the work, task, mission we have been given to do, but also to make it through any given day.

And yet we so often miss out on the presence of others in our lives due to so many reasons. Busyness. Work. Play. An “always-on-and-available-except-to-the-people-that-matter-most-to-us” mentality. Living in a constant age of distraction and disruption.

What would happen if we chose to disrupt the disruption? What could happen if we gave time, energy, and attention to the relationships that need it most? What if we as a church collectively regained our sense of purpose in “carrying the fire” – the light of the world – out of our buried baskets and frazzled lives and out into the world that’s desperately dying from not having it?

Might we just see that fire spread to others? Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

“Our collective holiness is a witness to our Holy God. How we live, then, not only expresses our calling but also narrates a story to the world. It tells others something about who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. If our life together is focused on fulfillment from “one another,” we will quickly devolve into a dysfunctional community marked by disillusionment, silent record-keeping, or unrealistic demands. We are called into community but not for community. We exist for Christ and in Christ. He is our all in all. If this is true, we will live together in a gracious, forbearing, truthful way. This way of living is a counter-cultural witness of Christ to the world. Our community becomes part of God’s greater mission for us. We are not only conceived in the church, but also called into God’s mission—to redeem social ill, make good culture, and share a whole gospel. We are sent together, called to carry the good news to people and into cultures.”

– Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson,

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities

 

 

 

 

Don’t Call it Inspirational. It’s Depressing

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“Don’t call this story inspirational. It’s not. It’s depressing.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Recently listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast Revisionist History, “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.” This is a powerful and sobering story talking about the reality of privilege and the struggle of those without it in our country, in our day.

One step towards working for a better world for all is first coming to understand how others live. That’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t just begin when He is dying on a cross, or raised from the grave, but when he comes “in the flesh” (incarnation) and walks in the shoes of His people. It even begins much earlier than that though, where we see that the story of Jesus and His incarnation, substitutionary death, and resurrection life is really the fulfillment of how God entered into the world wrecked and ruined by sin. 

In the Garden, God comes into His ruined creation and asks, not “What have you done,” but “Where are you?”

God leads with empathy and entering in. 

We can do the same for others in our midst – loving and serving them and their interests, regardless of our own interests – but only if we do the work of building relationships with them. Relationships characterized not by moral judgments or simply making opportunities available, but by entering into the world and life of others and seek to be a blessing.

This is how we build the shalom Jesus brings. Not through triumphalistic endeavors or merely good intentions. But through empathy and relational trust whereby we seek the interests of others ahead of our own.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Listen to the episode for the story “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.”

http://apple.co/29W6gEl

#empathy #know #feel #act #shalom #notthewayitssupposedtobe #gospel #incarnation

“God is not a prisoner of our faith…”

Quote

“God is not a prisoner of our faith, but of his own perfection. Faith obligates God to act not because it is a magical incantation that can be used to control God but because faith in God’s promises calls attention to God’s own faithfulness. The assurance upon which faith is based is the glory of God’s character, not the power of our believing.”

— Scott J. Hafemann
The God of Promise and the Life of Faith
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001), 93

Recently came across this quote I had saved and found it helpful and pertinent to our small group discussion tonight on, “Can someone lose their salvation?”

Sin Can’t Have a Green Card

ImageAs I’m working through the book of Romans with a group of great guys at Christ Church Santa Fe, I am struck by how often the questions of the role of sin in the Christian life come up.  This question makes sense and comes up in the book of Romans in chapter 6, but it’s at least in the background throughout the whole book.  We are utilizing a study guide put together by Tim Keller and Redeemer Church New York, and it is a great tool for our study, but still, this question lingers.

One way I have found helpful in answering this question is by using a “green card” analogy.  Here’s what I mean:

Because of your union with Christ, sin can’t have a green card in your life. It can’t claim citizenship (status), nor should it apply for permanent residence (progress).  In union with Christ, what is true of Him, is true (justification) and will be true (glorification) of you as well.

“There is no inconsistency or incoherency in the teaching of the NT about…”

Quote

“There is no inconsistency or incoherence in the teaching of the New Testament about, on the one hand, the offer of Christ in the gospel, which Christians are told to make known everywhere, and, on the other hand, the fact that Christ achieved a totally efficacious redemption for God’s elect on the cross.

It is a certain truth that all who come to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35, 47–51, 54–57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8–13). The elect hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so of their own free will (i.e., because they choose to, Mat 22:1–7; John 3:18), so that their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Christ learn to thank him for the cross as the centerpiece of God’s plan of sovereign saving grace.”

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology

Or…any other day too!

Every Monday (and every other Friday), I have the joy of meeting with a group of men to read, study and get into the habit of applying the Bible to our lives.  We’ve been working through Romans, and it has been a great time with these men. I found this quote today and think it may be helpful in light of our discussion on How Justification Works in Romans 5:1-11.

What makes us safe with God? Or, the Blessed Assurance of a Basic Theology

What makes us “safe” with God?

I was thinking of this after reading one of Spurgeon’s devotionals the other day from Morning and Evening.  Assuming that someone cares that they are (or are not) safe with God, its a pretty important question.

“Pleasant it is to the believer to know that God’s eye is thus tenderly observant of that work of grace which he has begun. He never loses sight of the treasure which he has placed in our earthen vessels. Sometimes we cannot see the light, but God always sees the light, and that is much better than our seeing it. Better for the judge to see my innocence than for me to think I see it. It is very comfortable for me to know that I am one of God’s people–but whether I know it or not, if the Lord knows it, I am still safe.”

Now don’t hear what Spurgeon is not saying.  He’s not saying that, “You have no response to Him to make,” or “There’s nothing you can know about God, and what He is up to in your life.”  Read the quote below for his thoughts on that.

But what he is saying is something I have adopted as a basic, underlying philosophy to life.  Its actually the starting point of all theological explorations for me and I encourage others to adopt it as well.

God is God, and I am not

It really is just that simple.  If God is God, then there are going to be things that He not only does, but even knows – about the world, life, and even myself – that I am not only unaware, but unable to estimate in the same regard as He does.  When doubt creeps in for whatever reason, I can still and always trust that God is God, and I am not.

 “You may be sighing and groaning because of inbred sin, and mourning over your darkness, yet the Lord sees “light” in your heart, for he has put it there, and all the cloudiness and gloom of your soul cannot conceal your light from his gracious eye. You may have sunk low in despondency, and even despair; but if your soul has any longing towards Christ, and if you are seeking to rest in his finished work, God sees the “light.” He not only sees it, but he also preserves it in you. “I, the Lord, do keep it.” This is a precious thought to those who, after anxious watching and guarding of themselves, feel their own powerlessness to do so. The light thus preserved by his grace, he will one day develop into the splendour of noonday, and the fulness of glory. The light within is the dawn of the eternal day.”

C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Day 5

Reading the Bible in a Year – Day 1: Thoughts from Genesis 1:27-28

I am going to blog through my “Read the Bible in a Year”, year (Henceforth known as RTBY.  Attempt might be a more apt word.  Nonetheless, its day 1 and I’m off to a great start!

Part of today’s reading covered the account of Creation, found in Genesis 1-2. No matter how many times I read (and re-read) these chapters, I am always struck by the simple and profound nature of Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

In one simple verse, we are told that God created man in His image, yet it was a plural image. Not only does this set up the theological understanding of the Trinity (God is One God, in Three Persons), but also the anthropological understanding of the human need for community.

Just as the first man was created in the image of God, meaning, created in/for/by community (with God), man continues to exist in a state of need for/in/with community (with fellow man), [or as will be made clear if you keep reading in Genesis, with woman].

It also sets up the radical and counter-intuitive notion that community is more than a social group.  Most of us tend to orient ourselves to other like-minded individuals.  We associate with people who are mostly, well, like us.  Because it easy to like “us”.  Its harder to like “them” (whoever “them” are).  But here we are told that man was created in the image of God, and that image had both a male and female aspect to it.

It seems that there is some level of diversity within the God-head.  There was also a level of diversity with the creation of the original man.

None of us can perfectly reflect God apart from others. That’s the critical, and often missing piece, in what passes for contemporary, Christian spirituality. This does not diminish the importance of the individual, but it does relativize the ultimateness of the individual only.

We were created by a community, for a community.

But it goes on from there to speak to one other important aspect. Just what was the first man supposed to do, exactly? Was there some purpose to what some have called the acme, or apex, of God’s creative work? None of the other episodes of God’s creation get a poetic narration from the Creator Himself as man does here in v. 27. Surely, there must have been something of a reason for such a grand display of joy at this point in time?

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28

The answer is that man was created with a mission to fulfill. Man was created to image God in God’s creation.

This doesn’t just mean that we sort-of look like God to everyone and everything around us. It means that we continue to do the things that God was up to those first few days of creation, namely, forming and filling.

We form good “stuff” out of the “stuff” we find around us (unlike God, who simply forms “stuff” out of nothing), and we fill the “stuff” of creation with more good “stuff”. All the while pointing it all back to the One who did all in the first place, and put us here to do it.

I spend time on this because I often here Christians speak of mission in the context of evangelism.

Only evangelism would be more accurate.

Surely evangelism is important; I am not denying or minimizing that at all. But “mission” is something that is inherent in our being created in the image of God, not just in our nature being sinful and fallen and in need of redemption.

Mission exists before the Fall. If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 1-2 for yourself and ask yourself why you read about stuff man was supposed to do, when sin had not yet entered the world (that would be Genesis 3).

Let me leave you with some thoughts for reflection:
1) If you and I were created in the image of God, entailing the importance of community for our lives, how highly would you rate the need for community in your life today?

2) If you do think highly of community, do you value the diversity that community itself entails, or do you simply find only like-minded, similar-thinking, affinity-based social groups that share your same biases on nearly everything? Remember, God created us in His image – male and female (diversity within community).

3) As creatures, created in the image of God, how might you live differently today knowing that what you do was meant to reflect back to the One who created you, designed you for this world, and seeks to make Himself known as both Creator and (eventually in the Biblical story) Redeemer? How might this affect your relationships at home? Work? Church? Community? How might this affect the way you think about issues surrounding your community?

Let me know your thoughts!

PS – For those who like more of this stuff, here is the Study Note for Genesis 1:27 from the ESV Study Bible (which, if you’re looking for a good Bible, that has helpful side-note, foot-note information, this would be it.)

Gen. 1:27 There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since v. 26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on v. 28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.) The Hebrew term ’adam, translated as man, is often a generic term that denotes both male and female, while sometimes it refers to man in distinction from woman (2:22, 23, 25; 3:8, 9, 12, 20): it becomes the proper name “Adam” (2:20; 3:17, 21; 4:1; 5:1). At this stage, humanity as a species is set apart from all other creatures and crowned with glory and honor as ruler of the earth (cf. Ps. 8:5–8). The events recorded in Genesis 3, however, will have an important bearing on the creation status of humanity.

The Story of Christmas

In today’s worship service, Martin Ban highlighted something about the story of Christmas from Luke’s gospel that I had not considered before.

“Luke begins his story w/ Jesus in a cave & wrapped in linen and ends the story with a cave & unwrapped from linens.” – Martin Ban (paraphrase)

The story of Christmas is really the story of the gospel. And in Luke, the story begins with Jesus being born in a cave, wrapped in swaddling linens, and ends with Jesus being placed in a burial cave, only to emerge days later and leave his burial linens behind.

The story of Christmas is the story of new life, found in and made possible by Jesus – God with us, making all things new.

Our part?

To receive this story, believe it, and spread it through our lives and with our words.

Merry Christmas everybody! A new day has arrived!

It’s Been a While

I have to say that I have been a bad blogger lately – and justifiably so.  School has ramped up, and I have been unusually stressed out.  So this past week was a great opportunity to practice an area of much needed sanctification in my life, something I like to call rest!  It was absolutely fabulous Us as a Family at Halloweento take several days “off” – no school work, no running out to study, or meet with anybody, or be anxious about how much I have to do in the next two weeks (which is alot). Instead, I got to roll around on the floor with my two children – Maya and Alex, re-arrange our living room to decorate for Christmas, lay on the couch without a Systematic Theology book resting on my belly, and spend some time on the couch with my wife.  I also spent very little time on the internet, and think that I might need to make that a recurring practice every so often.I do have some things in the works though for the blog that I wanted to preview for you all.Pierced for Our Transgressions  Sometime in the next few weeks I am going to posting several reviews of books.  One of my joys is sharing resources, and as I come across good books from class, or from generous folks (thank you Michele!), I’d like to tell you all about them, and recommend to you the ones that are worthwhile.  So, be on the look out for a post or two on Pierced for Our Transgressions (a great book on Penal Substitution), as well as something on Piper’s (and others) recent works, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World and The Future of Justification.Early on next year,  a friend here at seminary and I will be trying to read Communion with the Triune Godthrough some good stuff by some older generation, godly men.  We’ve talked about starting off with Communion with The Triune God – the recent adaptation(?) of John Owens’ classic.  I hope to make that a regular posting.  In addition, I’ll keep posting thoughts on faith, life, culture and preaching, because it seems those are the things that occupy the free space of my mind these days.